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Sequential Relationships: A New Way to Love

When learning to love requires letting go of attachment.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

In today’s revolving-door dating world, many people find long-term love relationships more and more elusive. Though most still search for the feelings of “settling down” with the forever-right person, many are realizing the benefits of non-committed, short-term, sequential experiences. The heady magic of the early stages of most new relationships has its own seductive attraction. And when that passion diminishes, there is no need for remorse or regret.

Many of these sequential daters tell me how they’ve had to learn how to enter and leave these lust/passion relationships with less angst and more enjoyment of the adventure itself. But they are concerned that they may be losing the skills that committed relationships would require, should they decide one day to reengage in their search for forever.

In order to reap the benefits of both worlds, they must learn how to love in short-term relationships in the same way they would if they were in it for the long haul. That means learning to love authentically, fully, and honestly, independent of any guarantees for an envisioned future.

The mastering of those behaviors is no easy task. It requires that people first accept the reality that the potential for long-term relationship success can never truly be known in the early months of any relationship. There are never absolute guarantees that any relationship will last over time, no matter how much commitment partners wanted that to happen.

It may not seem possible to imagine that human beings, with their innate insecurities and need to control their futures, could never fully commit without knowing what the likelihood that a positive outcome will happen. Yet, interestingly enough, many of my patients have told me that they have experienced a relationship like that at some time during their lives. Away on a trip, for instance, free from day-to-day restraints, they have met a total stranger and, knowing full well they may never see that person again, had an unforgettable short-term love affair with no regrets.

Those who can embrace this way of love at its best from the beginning of every new relationship keep the door open for a successful long-term love relationship to evolve if it’s meant to happen. They have not held back who they are, nor been inauthentic in any way. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If the highs of short-term relationships begin to lose their luster over time and give way to the greater desire for long-lasting love, they are fully ready to love in the same way they have already begun.

Acquiring the Skills to Love Independent of Outcome

Begin your exploration by answering the following three questions:

  1. Could you start each new relationship with eagerness and enthusiasm and let it just be the best of what it can until it isn’t anymore?

  2. Will you be able to stay resilient even if disappointments accrue, making certain that you do not allow martyrdom, bitterness, or romantic disillusionment to take away your spirit?

  3. Can you learn to love fully and still let go if the other person is through before you are?

To make those answers potential “yesses," you will need to fully commit to each new relationship without any investment in controlling its outcome. You’ll embrace the fact that exploration is not an obligation to commit, but is its own adventure. You’ll be able to discern the qualities of who you are with more quickly because you will be comfortable with open, direct questions that come from a genuine interest rather than the need for self-serving comfort.

Possible Barriers on Your Journey

If you are up for the challenge, you’ll also need to know where your own barriers are that might block you from being who you want to become on this new journey.

Childhood Influences

Not all childhood experiences affect us in the same way. Remember back to those people, situations, and incidences that left the deepest impression on you. They can run the gamut between trauma and joy.

If you were lucky enough to be loved unconditionally and spontaneously and encourage you to do the same, you will have learned the joys of those experiences. But if you have seen only one of your nurturers giving and the other exploitive, you may, instead, feel that love comes with pain, and not expect anything else. Always keep in mind that the people you choose to love may not be as generous or treasuring of you as the people who raised you were.

When present situations trigger the past, they also cause us to immediately regress to that age, and to respond as we would have then. So, recalling those impacting experiences will help you watch out for their re-emergence in your adult relationships.

Your Relationship History

How has your past behavior in relationships panned out for you?

Has your openness to giving your heart made your relationships worth it even if they do not work out?

Have you learned from each of them without being discourage to love again?

Have you listened to your head’s warnings with respect and interest, and used those internal directions to moderate your behavior?

Do you leave relationships with regrets and disillusionment, or do you feel encouraged to enter new ones with the same commitment to loving fully without hesitancy when you fall again?

Have your partners taken advantage of your spontaneous trust and generosity or cherished those qualities in you?

Your Nature

Some people open their hearts readily and easily, and some are naturally more wary and unable to trust until they are more certain of what they can expect. You want to protect and treasure the parts of your personality that you are proud of. That means not allowing yourself to be wounded in such a way that you don’t like who you are anymore and have lost your ability to trust in what you believe.

Who Are the Past Relationship Partners With Whom You’ve Had the Most Success?

It is rare to find people who are not intentionally “vetting” each new partner in terms of long-term possibilities. Very few live romantically adventurous lives that combine treasuring and respect without planning a potential future.

But, if you are clear and communicate who you are, and why you are that way, and that you are sincere in the way you love, you will be more likely to send out the clearest message that will attract like souls.

Make a list of the characteristics that are similar in the partners you have loved in this way. You’ll know if they qualify because the break-ups have left neither of you no regrets. Exclusivity, for instance, may be one of your requirements, even if the relationship last for a short time. Another example could be your need for total honesty about backgrounds, current status, and the capability to return love in the way you offer it.

Concurrently, make a list of the characteristics of people who have taken advantage of your caring without equal reciprocation. Did they present themselves differently from who they really were? Did they make promises about how they would behave that turned out to be untrue?

Most important, are you learning along the way how to better discern those characteristics early enough to walk away to make certain you preserve your dignity and self-respect?

Pay careful attention to your continuing ability to bounce back if you fall for someone who chooses to leave before you would have wanted. And learn to leave people intact and feeling glad they were with you when it is you that is the first one who needs to move ahead.

A Final Question

The basic life lesson here is being able to embrace the reality that the greater attachment you have to anyone, the more painful the loss will be when that person is no longer part of your life.

So, this is your final question, and perhaps the most important of all for you to answer.

If you were deeply in love with someone but knew that person would be taken from you at some time, and you had no way to stop that from happening, would you end the relationship because you cannot bear the anticipatory grief, or love him or her more deeply until that happened? Which answer you choose will tell you if you have the ability and desire to risk loving deeply even if you know it cannot last forever.

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